How should companies ask colleagues via email to donate to a cause?

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According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, global corporate assistance for the recent and ongoing crises in Japan has exceeded $183 million.

While some companies have had their hearts in the right places, execution of their humanitarian efforts has not always been well-planned. Consider the company that was taken to task for a Facebook posting saying that it would donate $1 to the Japanese reconstruction effort for every Facebook “like” it got. Tacky.

When planning your company's response to a humanitarian crisis, keep a few common-sense guidelines in mind:

Reach out only to people with whom you regularly do business. Limiting your fundraising effort to your current customer base and employees shows that you're a good corporate citizen without making it appear that you are trying to gain something from the tragedy.

Clearly state the details of your effort. Be as transparent as possible about how much money, products or services you will provide, if you will match donations, the limit of your donation, where donations will go, etc. Communicate regular updates via email and social media.

Don't mix business with tragedy. When emailing customers about your efforts, don't include marketing or promotional information. Also, don't try to get new followers, friends or subscribers through your humanitarian efforts. Any new followers you gain will quickly go away after the donation period.

Make it easy for people to give. Increase donations by making it simple to give and spreading the word on multiple channels: email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Link to a Web page that accepts credit cards or employ “text to give,” which enables people to give a set amount by texting a phrase to a short code.

Formalize your corporate giving in advance. Develop an ongoing corporate giving program and communicate about it regularly to customers and employees via email and social media. This gives you the ability to highlight your ongoing good work and creates the program structure to use when a tragedy hits.

Overall, when fundraising for a cause, remember that getting attention for doing good is OK. However, doing good just to seek attention will surely backfire.

Carissa Newton is director of marketing for Delivra (, an email marketing software and services provider.

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